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Meleika v. City of Jersey City

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 21, 2018

CITY OF JERSEY CITY, et al., Defendants.



         Following the dismissal of most of the claims in the Complaint on statute of limitations grounds (ECF no. 13), what remained was a § 1983 malicious prosecution claim by Steven Meleika, pro se, against the City of Jersey City. The City has now filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF no. 24) as to that remaining claim. For the reasons stated herein, that motion, whether construed as a motion for summary judgment or as one for judgment on the pleadings, is granted.


         The Complaint is brief, consisting of filled-in blanks on a standard pro se complaint form.[1] The underlying factual allegations, in their entirety, are as follows:

On 5-1-2014 I was arrested by Jersey City Police in Jersey City. I was criminally charged with multiple serious charges (felonies). After going to court once every month for two years, the charges were dismissed during trial. All charges were dismissed without pleading guilty.

(Cplt. § III.C) Attached to the Complaint are medical records of a cat scan, showing no serious injury, plus a prescription for thirty 500 mg tablets of Naproxen, a pain reliever. All are dated May 2, 2014. The Complaint states that the date of dismissal of the criminal case was 10-7-2015. (Id. § III.B)

         I dismissed various claims arising from the May 1, 2014 arrest, because they accrued outside of the applicable two-year statute of limitations. (ECF no. 13) I denied the motion to dismiss the § 1983 malicious prosecution claim, however, because that cause of action did not accrue until the criminal case was dismissed by the Jersey City Municipal Court on October 7, 2015, a date that fell within the limitations period.

         My order of dismissal was without prejudice to the submission of an amended complaint within 30 days. Because no amended complaint was filed, the dismissal of the arrest-related claims has become final.

         While considering the motion to dismiss, I received a letter request from the City that it be permitted to supplement its motion with evidence that the plaintiff stipulated to probable cause during the Municipal Court proceedings. (ECF no. 12) Because the exhibit was proffered belatedly, I denied that request without prejudice to any future motion for dismissal or summary judgment. (ECF no. 13)

         On October 17, 2017, the City filed an Answer to the Complaint. (ECF no. 16)

         On March 23, 2018, the City filed a motion for summary judgment on the malicious prosecution claim. (ECF no. 24) It asserts that, in connection with the dismissal of the State charges, Meleika stipulated on the record that they were supported by probable cause, thus negating an essential element of malicious prosecution.

         On March 27, 2018, Meleika filed a document titled "Response to Defendant Motion to Dismiss." (ECF no. 25) From the context, however, it is clearly intended as a response to the City's motion for summary judgment, and I accept it as such.

         On May 17, 2018, Meleika filed another document, titled "Amended Complaint." (ECF no. 27) At an in-person conference before the Magistrate Judge, however, Meleika clarified that he did not really mean to amend his complaint; rather, this document was submitted in further opposition to the summary judgment motion. Magistrate Judge Hammer memorialized that understanding in a text order:

TEXT ORDER: For the reasons discussed on the record on July 26, 2018, and Plaintiff having stated that he does not seek to amend his complaint and that the document filed at D.E. 27 was intended to support his opposition to the pending motion for summary judgment, this Court will take no action on D.E. 27 at this time. Plaintiffs operative pleading remains the Complaint docketed at D.E. 1. So Ordered by Magistrate Judge Michael A. Hammer on 7/26/2018. (MAH) (Entered: 07/26/2018)

(ECF no. 29).

         The City has not filed a reply on its summary judgment motion.

         II. The Applicable Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment should be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Kreschollek v. S. Stevedoring Co., 223 F.3d 202, 204 (3d Cir. 2000). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Boyle v. Cnty. of Allegheny Pennsylvania, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact remains. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). "[W]ith respect to an issue on which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof... the burden on the moving party may be discharged by 'showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325.

         This motion, although styled as one for summary judgment, might fit within the confines of a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). See Section III.A, infra. I therefore review the standards for such a motion.

         A motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) is often indistinguishable from a motion to dismiss, except that it is made after the filing of a responsive pleading. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(2) "provides that a defense of failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted may also be made by a motion for judgment on the pleadings." Turbe v. Gov't of Virgin Islands, 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991). Accordingly, when a Rule 12(c) motion asserts that the complaint fails to state a claim, the familiar Rule 12(b)(6) standard applies. Id.

         Rule l2(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The facts alleged in the complaint are accepted as true and all reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. New Jersey Carpenters & the Trustees Thereof v. Tishman Const Corp. of New Jersey, 760 F.3d 297, 302 (3d Cir. 2014). "[A] plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the complaint's factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a speculative level, so that a claim is "plausible on its face." Id. at 570; see also West Run Student Hous. Assocs., LLC v. Huntington Nat. Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 169 (3d Cir. 2013). That facial-plausibility standard is met "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While "(t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement'... it asks for more than a sheer possibility." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Where the plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the complaint is "to be liberally construed," and, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). Nevertheless, "pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim." Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013). "While a litigant's pro se status requires a court to construe the allegations in the complaint liberally, a litigant is not absolved from complying with Twombly and the federal pleading requirements merely because s/he proceeds pro se." Thakar v. Tan, 372 Fed.Appx. 325, 328 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).

         III. ...

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